Home  Reviews  Articles  Calendar  Presenters  Add Event     
EXOTIC RUSSIAN MUSIC FEATURED IN MV PHIL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Thursday, May 19, 2022
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PREMIERES DAUGHERTY SKETCHES OF SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 8, 2022
Chamber
BRAHMS-ERA TRIOS HIGHLIGHT OAKMONT CHAMBER CONCERT
by Nicholas Xelenis
Thursday, May 5, 2022
Chamber
CHAMBER GEMS OF BRAHMS IN TRIO NAVARRO'S SCHROEDER CONCERT
by Judy Walker
Sunday, May 1, 2022
Recital
UNIQUE ELEGANCE IN GALBRAITH GUITAR RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Friday, April 29, 2022
Symphony
VSO'S ELEGANT PASTORAL SYMPHONY SHINES IN EMPRESS RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 24, 2022
Choral and Vocal
A SPIRITUAL FAURE REQUIEM IN GOOD FRIDAY CANTIAMO CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Friday, April 15, 2022
Symphony
LUSH ORCHESTRA PLAYING IN SO CO PHIL-LLOYD MEMORIAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 3, 2022
Chamber
DISPARATE TRIOS IN HOLLYWOOD PIANO TRIO'S 222 CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 2, 2022
Chamber
TANGO IMMERSION IN MILL VALLEY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 27, 2022
OPERA REVIEW

Principals B. Knezevic A. Veruni and K. Gino's Curtain Call (Conductor Mary Chun Watches)

'ELIXIR' A WELCOME TONIC IN SPRIGHTLY ANNUAL MMF OPERA

by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 19, 2019

In most of the Mendocino Music Festival’s 33 seasons a single evening is given over to a staged opera, with bare bones sets, lighting, costumes, minimal cast and short length. No Wagner or Verdi here, no multiple acts and complicated production demands. Light and frothy are the usual, and so it was July 19 when the Festival mounted Donizetti’s charming “Elixir of Love” in the massive tent on the bluffs overlooking Mendocino Bay.

The two-act work runs a little over two hours and stage director Ann Woodhead moved the action from rural Italy of the 1830s to rural Italy a hundred years later. On the wide stage were a rustic table, a few chairs, milk cans and the Festival Chamber Chorale of 15 quite elderly singers, in simple costumes by Janice Culliford. Mary Chun conducted the Festival Orchestra, hidden as always in MMF operas behind a black back stage scrim, but never missed due to the overloud amplification that favored brass and sporadically covered the ensemble’s singing on stage.

Elixir’s plot revolves around familiar operatic themes of boy wants girl/mix ups/boy finally gets girl, with the interest coming in the complications. Here it is the insertion of a quack snake oil salesman (Dr. Dulcamara) that through his extravagance and the town’s gullibility his home-brewed “elixir” (cheap Tuscan Chianti) solves romantic and social issues and ultimately brings good financial fortune and merriment to all.

How was the singing? Very good, with a balanced production spotlighting soprano Aurelie Veruni (as Adina) and her awkward swain (tenor Kevin Gino as Nemorino) and the massive bass Bojan Knezevic’s sprightly Sgt. Belcore, the village’ resident soldier. Tending to steal the show were the repartee and antics of baritone Nick Volkert’s Dulcamara, capturing the buffo pranks and inciting the action. Ms. Veruni in the first act combined coquettish acting with clear Italian and when needed considerable top-note power, important in the large-volume tent space with zero reverberation. Mr. Gino’s was equally impressive if with a less powerful voice and perhaps over-the-top hand gestures and continual fumbling with his straw hat and shaking the love potion bottle.

Elixir’s most famous area, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” began with Mr. Gino’s tranquil mezzo piano introduction framed by lovely bassoon playing by Carolyn Lockhart, but never quite soared over the audience of 700. Tenors love to sing it, with recent stellar versions from Pavarotti and Juan Diego Flores. The “Quanto Amore” duet between Adina and Dulcamara was a highlight as in the second act the plot strands were coming together.

Musically the score was one that Verdi must have valued (Traviata, Ballo) and Ms. Chun, a veteran of bay Area conducting and Music Director of Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater, drew a lively performance that never lagged. Even with stage right and stage center prompters, Ms. Chun must have had a video screen in front of her conductor’s score to manage the unfolding musical flow with the unseen stage action. Excellent playing during Ms. Veruni’s sensitively sung cabaletta “Prendi, per me sei Libero" came from clarinetist Eric Kritz and what was I think Meave Cox’ English horn. Did I also hear an electric piano or celeste?

The Festival’s much appreciated supertitles (the English libretto projected on the scrim) failed for much of the first act, but otherwise the production was pretty much flawless – no stage missteps, dropped lines, late orchestral entries or halting Italian words.

Elixir was another in a string of opera successes for the Festival, all the more impressive in that casting and rehearsal schedules are complex, and “it has to be right” for just one performance.